Difference Between a Sore Throat, Strep, & Tonsillitis

While sore throats are common, especially in young children, knowing the difference between a sore throat, strep, and tonsillitis is important in treating it properly. Not all sore throats require medical attention, but understanding when to contact your medical professional is essential.

Symptoms of a Sore Throat

The common first signs of a sore throat include mild swelling, discomfort, and redness of the throat. A sore throat is paired with cold or flu symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough, or congestion.

Fevers are not common in children with sore throats, unlike bacterial infections (strep throat). If caused by an underlying infection, other symptoms may arise.

Other symptoms of a sore throat can include:

  • Pain when swallowing or talking
  • Scratchy or irritated throat
  • Swollen tonsils and/or swollen glands in the neck
  • Sneezing
  • Aches in the body
  • Headache

Symptoms of Strep Throat

Unlike a common sore throat, which is caused by a virus, strep throat is caused by bacteria. Strep throat is usually more painful with harsher symptoms, and it requires antibiotics to relieve it.

Signs of strep throat include somewhat sudden swelling and pain in the throat. Similar to a viral sore throat, swollen tonsils and lymph nodes around the neck are common. A large difference when it comes to strep is having a fever of 101° or higher.

With strep throat, the swelling and redness of the throat are frequently much worse than that of a sore throat. White patches can often be seen in the throat or on the tonsils.

More signs of strep may include:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Small, red spots on the roof of the mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad breath
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Chills
  • Overall body aches or discomfort

Symptoms of Tonsillitis

While the signs of tonsillitis overlap with that of strep throat, there are unique signs to look out for when in doubt. Tonsillitis can be caused by a virus or by bacteria, so the symptoms and length of symptoms may vary.

Signs of tonsillitis include swelling of the throat and/or lymph nodes, redness in the throat, and pain when swallowing. A difference between a sore throat and tonsillitis can be the throatiness of the voice, as tonsillitis can cause muffled or impaired speech.

While strep throat may cause white patches in the throat, tonsillitis can cause white or yellow coating over the tonsils.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fever and/or chills
  • Bad breath
  • Pain in the ears
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Mouth breathing
  • Excessive salivating
  • Poor appetite
  • Snoring

How and When to Treat a Sore Throat?

If you are ever concerned about your child’s sore throat, it is best to contact a professional to be sure about treatment.

The common sore throat can be treated at home and typically goes away on its own within one week. A child with a sore throat should be drinking plenty of liquids and getting enough rest. If old enough, gargling with salt water or using throat lozenges can provide relief.

Strep throat is only treated with antibiotics. If you believe your child may have strep, seeking medical attentionis the best solution to help your loved one recover. Antibiotics commonly begin helping with 1-2 days.

Tonsillitis is sometimes harder to treat because it could be viral or bacterial. Only bacterial tonsillitis can be treated with antibiotics.

At-home remedies for the relief of tonsillitis symptoms include gargling with salt water, using throat lozenges, and over-the-counter pain relievers. It is best to consult a medical provider in the case your child has tonsillitis for proper treatment.

If you are concerned about your child’s sore throat or would like to discuss more on the difference between a sore throat, strep, and tonsillitis, contact one of our helpful professionals today.